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The Excesses of the Holidays

The holiday season can be quite stressful and preparation is essential to prevent relapses.The Christmas season is a time of family gathering. It is a time of gift giving and receiving – a time for turkey and all the fixings. For some it is a time of religious significance and celebration. For children it is a time of wonder and great anticipation - decorating the tree and writing that “want” list for Santa Claus. Shopping malls beckon the consumer with decorations and Christmas themed advertising as early as the beginning of November. Holiday “jingles” flood the commercials on TV and television specials involving everyone from Justin Bieber to Rod Stewart are available for viewing every night. Year in and year out, Christmas is a time of excess.

With the excesses comes pressure – financial pressure regarding the gift buying excess – pressure at work for those in the retail business – pressure to ensure that all travel arrangements are made in time etc. The pressure can lead to stress and the stress can lead to anxiety. Suddenly all those Norman Rockwell  “joyous” aspects of the holidays can become a bit tainted – perhaps the financial realities remove the “coming home for Christmas” scenario. In an age of over 50% divorce rate there are often children who spend the holidays with only one parent and his or her family. Many do not have accessible family members at all and are alone on December 25th. Crimes and wars continue unabated and many can’t escape the same oppressive realities that are all consuming throughout the year. The myth of universal harmony at Christmas has never withstood the test of reality. But …… most of us attempt to embrace the “Christmas spirit” and engage in the excesses that seem to be a necessary component of the holidays.

The fact is that Christmas is not a “happy” time for all. Yes, it is for most as we attempt to relegate the “problems” of life to the back burner during the holidays – and often succeed to a large extent. But for those who are not able to find the “Christmas spirit” being surrounded by all the excessive “joy” can make the time even harder. The excessive indulgences regarding food and drink are one way that both those who are in the spirit and those who are not tend to “mark” the festive time. Christmas parties abound with a different attitude usually in place in terms of the amount of “cheer” that is consumed. It is part of the “excessive” attitude surrounding this time of year. Liquor store sales boom as the 25th of December and the 1st of January approach. Police alcohol road checks increase dramatically. Alcohol consumption increases for both those who are ‘social” drinkers and those who battle addictive tendencies. Alcoholics don’t need a holiday to drink excessively, but during the excessive times of the holidays, their “problem” can often be unobserved in the cacophony of parties and eggnog. Many of the psychological reasons for the alcoholic’s addiction are heightened during the deluge of fabricated “joyousness” that accompanies the commercialization of the consumer based emphasis on the “proper” way to behave during Christmas. The sense of isolation and loneliness that is often an aspect of the addict’s psyche can become intensified as the images of family gatherings and festive friendships are plastered on billboards and dominate the media outlets. This sense of “not” belonging can often have detrimental effects upon the suffering addict and can be problematic for those in recovery as well.

The holidays are a time for joyous family get-togethers and the excesses can often be controlled so as to allow for a “true’ spirit of happiness to blossom. But there are those who are not in a position to embrace those aspects of the holidays that many of us take for granted. Christmas is supposed to be a time for “giving” - and giving can take many forms. It is not only about the gifts or the parties – it is about the “caring” and the human ability to reach out and “share” with others. During this December, perhaps, while we wander through the snow-covered streets looking for that final gift for the ones we love, we should remember how fortunate we are to have our families and friends and to remember those who do not. Enjoy the excesses of this time of year but remember that there are people out there, maybe even sitting at the Christmas dinner table next to you, who struggle with their demons and addictions that are often more consuming during this Norman Rockwell moment. Take the time to “observe” and feel free to reach out and “touch” those whose “excessive” indulgences are not done in joy, but in the pain of addiction and sadness.

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